At the start of this season, the LG Twins had a lot of tailgate worries, as last year’s closer, Ko Woo-seok, was out for an extended period of time. They had the most blown saves of the 10 clubs at nine, and their interim closers changed frequently.
But two months after the start of the season, those worries have turned to dust. High school rookie Park Myung-geun has been pitching brilliantly and anchoring the LG bullpen.
Park, the 27th overall pick in the third round of the 2023 rookie draft, has established himself as an “absolute pitcher” who is now indispensable to LG. In 23 appearances, he has a 1-5 record with four saves and a 2.61 ERA. His saves lead the team.
Yeom has been using Park Myung-geun, whom he has been watching closely since he was the KBO’s technical commissioner last year. In January, he included Park as the only rookie on the roster for Arizona’s spring training camp in the United States, and then added him to the regular season roster.
Park’s position has also been upgraded to the closer’s role, and he is also serving as a temporary reliever. “He’s throwing his own balls, so I trust him,” Yeom said, adding, “He has a good mentality and has the temperament of a closer.”
In response, Park Myung-geun said, “I am grateful that the coach has a positive view of me. Honestly, it must have been difficult for him to use a rookie pitcher as a closer, but I’m grateful for the opportunity.” “No matter what role I take on, if I do my best to do what I can, I will have a good chance. I’m just happy to be in a position where I can contribute to the team,” he said.
“I was given a big role as a closer (due to team circumstances), and I was a little nervous at first. Now, when I get a save, I get to do tricks and prank my brothers. It’s a position where I can have fun and feel happy,” he added.
Park’s professional life hasn’t always been smooth sailing. In his season opener on 1 April, he gave up three runs without recording a single out and struggled in his first four games with a 10.38 ERA (7 runs, 5 earned in 4⅓ innings).
“I was very nervous in my first professional start. I was very nervous because it was my debut and there were runners on base. It was like I was playing a crazy game,” he recalled.
As time went on, Park began to settle down. After finishing April with a seven-game shutout streak, he dazzled in May with a 1-0 record, five saves and a 0.82 ERA.
“I think it was a difference of adaptation,” Park said. In April, I was experiencing the KBO for the first time and didn’t know exactly how to compete with batters and manage the game, but now I’m getting used to it little by little as I gain experience. I was able to listen to the advice of my seniors and make up for my shortcomings, and I was able to showcase my good form.” 메이저놀이터
With these spoils, Park Myung-geun was nominated for the Best 12 Sharing All-Star Middle Pitcher of the All-Star Game. He was selected to represent LG’s middle infield, beating out the likes of Jung Woo-young and Ham Deok-ju. If Park is selected to the Best 12, he will be the fourth first-year high school rookie to be honoured with an All-Star selection, following Ahn Chi-hong in 2009, Lee Jung-hoo in 2016 and Jeong Woo-young in 2019.
“I’m honestly surprised to see my name on the All-Star Game Best 12 list. There’s a lot of responsibility when you’re nominated to represent your team. Playing in such a big event will give me a good experience to grow into a good baseball player, and I can’t wait to play,” he said confidently.
Park is also in the running for the once-in-a-lifetime Rookie of the Year award, along with KIA Tigers pitcher Yoon Young-chul and Lotte Giants outfielder Kim Min-seok. The jury is still out on the award, but if Park continues to perform as well as he has, he could very well win it.
He said, “I’m greedy for the rookie award. But I’m playing for the team, not the rookie award. If I can help the team perform well, the award will naturally follow,” he said.
In half a year, Park’s baseball life has changed. “Honestly, I’m proud and surprised that I’ve made it to a professional team and have a consistent spot in the bullpen. Things that I couldn’t have imagined when I was an amateur continue to happen,” he said, adding, “I want to continue this trend.”
Park’s role will change when Go Woo-seok returns to the first team roster on the fourth after recovering from a shoulder injury. “My role is to go on the mound and close in any situation,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the bullpen being stronger when (Ko) Woo-seok comes back. I had less time with Woo Seok-hyung, but I hope we can continue to play baseball together in the first team (without injury).”